The second half of conference play begins today for the Georgia men’s basketball team, which has already packed a season’s worth of memorable moments in the first half.
Beth Hall/AP Georgia guard Gerald Robinson (22) and forward Trey Thompkins (33) high-five during Wednesday’s 60-59 victory over Arkansas at Fayetteville.
From two heartbreaking home losses to two adventurous winter road trips that ended with wins, the Bulldogs have experienced plenty.
They stand 15-6 overall, 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference and are in position to make a run for an NCAA tournament berth.
"There’s still another level that we can get to as a team that we haven’t reached yet," junior forward Trey Thompkins said. "We understand that. At the same time, everybody’s on the same accord. Everybody’s playing hard. We just have a couple of things that we have to fine-tune as a team."
Georgia, which plays Auburn at 1:47 p.m. today at Stegeman Coliseum, didn’t arrive in Athens until after 2 a.m. on Thursday, but a 60-59 win at Arkansas on Wednesday night made the trip home easier.
The Bulldogs were on the other end of close games in a buzzer-beating loss to Tennessee and a double-overtime defeat at the hands of Florida.
"Hard-fought games are to be expected and in the SEC East, you’re going to have a lot of hard-fought battles," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "You’re going to win some, and you’re going to probably lose some. That’s just part of league play. As a coach or as a player, you’re used to dealing with that. I’m not going to lie. The other day – the travel – I’m not used to that."
The Bulldogs had all kinds of trouble traveling to Arkansas.
With fog in Athens on Tuesday evening, they waited an hour and a half to get a bus to take them two hours to Augusta in hopes of catching a flight out of there, but ended up waiting in an airplane for some three hours before it was determined they would have to fly out the day of the game.
Snow and ice in Arkansas and then a thunderstorm in Augusta forced the team to fly out Wednesday. Fox said it was the first time he’s had a team travel to a road game the same day as the game.
The Bulldogs had to scrap their shoot-around and walk-through on gameday.
Georgia already coped with driving by bus to Nashville last month to play Vanderbilt when this state was hit with a winter storm.
The Bulldogs lost to the Commodores, stuck around two days and took a bus to Ole Miss, where they routed the Rebels 98-76.
"Those were definitely interesting," guard Dustin Ware said of the road trips impacted by weather. "We probably had more fun moments. The good thing is that it gave us a chance to bond and get even closer."
Through it all, ESPN.com’s "Bracketology," updated Friday, has Georgia as one of the last four seeds in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs would love to have a couple of more wins, but they haven’t stumbled with any bad losses.
"That’s one thing, we have avoided is the bad loss," Fox said. "I think that’s really a credit to these guys’ mental preparation."
Georgia is No. 35 in ESPN.com’s RPI, with all six of its losses to teams in the top 50: Notre Dame, Temple, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky.
"The teams we have lost to have been quality teams," Thompkins said. "We also feel like we should have won those games."
The Bulldogs’ remaining schedule includes five games against teams 94th and lower in the RPI: Auburn (280), two games with South Carolina (94), LSU (181) and Alabama (107). The other games are against teams all in the top 26: Xavier, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida.
Fox is looking for Gerald Robinson (eight assists and 12 turnovers the past three games) to return to form handling the ball and Travis Leslie (3 of 16 shooting, 12 points the last two games) to get going again offensively.
"The good thing is, there’s room for us to grow," Fox said. "The bad thing is, there are things that we’re not doing well. I’m never pleased with how we defend. I don’t think we’ve been as consistent taking care of the ball lately as we were earlier. … Overall, I think this group, their approach pleases me."
AUBURN VS. GEORGIA MEN
► WHEN/WHERE: 1:47 p.m. today
► WHERE:Stegeman Coliseum
► TV/RADIO: Peachtree-TV/960-AM.
► RECORDS: Auburn (8-14, 1-7 SEC); Georgia (15-6, 4-4).
► PROBABLE STARTERS: Auburn — F Allen Payne (Fr., 6-6, 206, 6.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Kenny Gabriel (Jr., 6-8, 190, 9.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Adrian Forbes (Jr., 6-8, 230, 3.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg); G Josh Wallace (So., 5-10, 160, 5.8 ppg, 3.8 apg); G Earnest Ross (Jr., 6-6, 215, 12.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
Georgia — F Travis Leslie (Jr., 6-4, 205, 14.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg); F Trey Thompkins (Jr., 6-10, 240, 16.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg); C Jeremy Price (Sr., 6-8, 264, 8.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Dustin Ware (Jr., 5-11, 182, 8.1 ppg, 3.8 apg); G Gerald Robinson (Jr., 6-1, 180, 13.7 ppg, 4.0 apg).
► SERIES: Entering the 175th meeting between the teams, the series is tied 87-87. Georgia leads 58-22 in Athens, but the Tigers have won two straight in series.
► LAST MEETING: Auburn beat Georgia 82-63 on Feb. 10, 2010 in Auburn in a game in which the Bulldogs committed turnovers on five of their first seven possessions. Travis Leslie had 19 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
► SEASON AT A GLANCE: Auburn has struggled mightily in coach Tony Barbee’s first season after arriving from UTEP. The Tigers, who rank 291st in the nation in scoring, have the league’s worst record and lost their first six conference games before pulling out a win at South Carolina a week ago. Auburn is coming off a 69-56 home loss to Tennessee on Thursday night. … Georgia can match its SEC win total of last season with a victory today as the Bulldogs try to move back over .500 in SEC play. The Bulldogs had lost three of four before their 60-59 win at Arkansas Wednesday. Ware has been key in SEC play, leading the conference in 3-point percentage (48.6), second in assists (4.5 per game) and first in assist to turnover ratio (6.0)
► NOTEWORTHY: Georgia should have its fifth straight home sellout. Only student tickets remained Friday. … Auburn center Rob Chubb, who scored a career-high 18 points in the Tigers’ win at South Carolina, did not play against Tennessee after being suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. …With a win, the Bulldogs would notch its first back-to-back SEC victories under coach Mark Fox. …Auburn’s Wallace, a walk-on, is tied for the league lead in steals at 1.8 per game. …Georgia’s Robinson is fourth in the SEC with a 50 percent field goal percentage. …Thompkins’ next rebound will make him one of nine in Georgia history with 1,200 points and 600 rebounds. … Auburn is shooting 39.5 percent on the season, 311th of 336 Division I teams.